We’ve all been there. The swamp of despair is that rut you get into when you least expect it. Something happens to knock you out of your training routine. Holidays. Injury. Exams. Weather. Whatever – you missed a couple of sessions and all of a sudden, getting back into things seems impossible. Not only do you feel horribly guilty for the time you’ve missed, the thoughts of putting enough effort into escaping the gravitational pull of the rut feels impossible. In fact, your previous routine seems completely out of reach.
A few more days slip by and suddently the excuses are falling thick and fast.
“Well it’s been five days, I may as well make this a full week off. I’ll start properly on Monday.”
“I must be really tired. My body is telling me I need a break.”
“I think I’m getting a cold. Yup, my throat is really sore.”
Need help? Phone a Friend.
One of the reasons Rhona and I set up BitchMittens was because we realised that training together always gave better results. And that maybe a blog like this could help women who wanted to train to share their stories and feel less alone. Unless I’m in a solid routine, I would never get my ass in gear to train. There’s a pretty logical reason why we train harder in company. All of us are programmed to seek external validation and the approval of others. (I’m not saying that’s particularly healthy but that’s a whole other blog post) But having someone else to push us, encourage us, and indeed – validate our efforts – makes a real difference to how hard we work. And by we, I mean ME. I’ll own it! I’m way more likely to walk away mid-piece if I’m on my own. But when I train with Rhona she’ll look at me with her big blue eyes and say… “Get your arse back on that seat you lazy bitch!” And when the mental doubts come flocking “I can’t do this! I’m not good enough!” She’s there telling me otherwise. Some athletes don’t need the fanfare. They get all their validation from within. Good for them I say. But I am not one of those enlightened beings… yet And I say, never be too proud to ask a friend for a kick up the backside.
So I have a theory about will power. I developed this theory over the past three years, as a result of my horrible early morning commute. I am not an early riser. I would do anything – say anything – for five more minutes in bed. And so getting out of bed at 5am every week, especially when my mind only shut down at 1 or 2am, well that requires superhuman levels of my will-power. And I noticed, that on early start days, that those are the days that I make weaker decisions. Order white bread instead of brown. Take the lift instead of the stairs. Have cappucccino instead of green tea. Go to the pub instead of the gym. I have come to the conclusion that we humans have a finite amount of mental strength each day. If we use it all up at once doing things we find hard (like getting out of bed) it soon runs out!
So how can we adapt? The trick, I believe, is to minimise the effort we have to expend to get through the day. This means, making certain decisions in advance – so you don’t use up your will power. For example, I pack granola into my travel case the night before, so that I don’t have to will myself to turn down a breakfast roll on the way to work. I make as many decisions as I can in advance, when I’m not tired. I schedule training sessions the day before so I can’t wuss out. This is one of the reasons that training routines work, if you ask me. If you always go to the gym on Monday, then you don’t have to make a new decision, it’s already been made. After all – someone said – “Excellence is a habit, not a trait”.
I’ve also noticed that there are times when the reluctance to do anything is more than just a rut, and more than a dearth of will power. It’s a proper doldrom. A blog post from a friend of mine was really enlightening here. The guts of it was this: we are defined by the goals or quests that we set ourselves. That may be a marathon, a degree, or a project at work. When that quest is over, there are several natural phases, including ones of anti-climax and opting out. There’s even a book he mentions that talks about this – Lifelaunch – A Passionate Guide to the Rest of Your Life. And so, if you’ve reached a major milestone of achievement in your life, don’t be surprised if you find your routines, your attitudes and your will power all in a state of turmoil. Interesting idea isn’t it? What was your last milestone and how did you feel afterwards? Ready for action, or ready for a time out? Perhaps acknowledging what got you into your rut is the key for taking the first essential steps to getting out of it. That might be stress, a change in routine or even a major milestone. Being self aware is always a good start.
Bugger Philosophy. Fix Me!
Right, so you’re in a rut. Your folds of flesh have grafted themselves to the cushions of the sofa. You’re eating industrial sized bags of cheesy wotsits with a garden trowel and drinking pints of pinot grigio while wearing your old maternity trousers. At this stage, you’re worried that you’re beyond saving. It’s OK. Here’s the only thing you need to know.
Every moment is a new chance. Not tomorrow. Not Monday, but right this minute. All you need to do is make one small decision. Start with a shower. (Water has magical powers).
Six Ways To Escape the Swamp
- Call a friend. Ask for help.
- Check your willpower levels. What’s been sapping your reserves?
- Get some sleep. Lack of sleep is a major inconveneince for your body and mind.
- Drink water. According to models, athletes, doctors and my mum, dehydration is a killer.
- Take baby steps. Make every session, but give yourself a week or two to power up. Just showing up is a great start.
- Forgive yourself. Ruts happen to the best of us. The trick is getting out of them before it’s too late.